Action alert! California mountain lions in peril

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Mountain lions in our deserts and related lions in the south and central coast of California are at risk of extinction. A petition to state list these animals as threatened is being heard by the California Fish and Game Commission. Find out below what you can do to support their listing before April 14, 2020.

Uncollared adult female mountain lion leaving her scent on a log in the Verdugo Mountains with Glendale and the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. in the background. Photo: National Park Service on Flickr

One night in December 2018, police shot and killed a mountain lion in a residential area up in the hills above the high desert town of Yucca Valley.

It was the second night in a row officers had been called after the lion entered a chicken coop and killed a number of birds. The first time, officers managed to chase the lion away. On this night though, the lion was still inside the coop and refused to leave.

Sheriff’s photo of mountain lion in Yucca Valley. Courtesy of Z107.7FM

In an emotional statement after the lion’s death, police said they simply didn’t have the resources to tranquilize and remain with the lion. “If there were any other immediate resolutions, we can ensure you they would have been utilized. It would certainly benefit us all to have more accessible resources such as Fish & Wildlife at all times. However, they too are faced with many geographic obstacles…”

Why was the mountain lion so close to a residential area? This case highlights one of the worrying factors around the status of this iconic and majestic species.

Increasingly, mountain lion habitat is lost, fragmented or otherwise encroached upon by human beings. About 100 mountain lions a year are legally killed after a “depredation event” — when a mountain lion kills livestock or pets. Another 100 are killed every year when they try to cross roads — something the Mojave Desert Land Trust is working to address by preserving wildlife corridors and investigating the potential for the construction of wildlife crossings.

Mountain lions can also die at the hands of poachers or after eating animals that have ingested rat poisons. When added together, isolation and these human-caused mountain lion deaths exceed the threshold established by biologists for sustainable populations in many California regions.

Here’s the thing. Mountain lions have lived and thrived in California for tens of thousands of years. Over the past century, though, they have experienced a decline due to the effects of human development and fragmentation of their habitat. High levels of inbreeding and rapid declines in genetic diversity are occurring as mountain lion populations become more isolated by freeways and sprawl, and are reduced in number by highway collisions, poisoning and sanctioned killing.

The mountain lions living in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains are particularly at risk. A 2019 study predicted that if inbreeding gets worse, mountain lions could disappear from these ranges within 15 years. Keeping these lions connected to other mountain lion populations, including our desert lions is crucial to their future survival.

As the last remaining large carnivore in the desert and the south and central coast, mountain lions are a keystone species. Their presence has been shown to help maintain diverse habitats that support a multitude of fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, mammal, insect, and invertebrate species. And mountain lion kills provide an important source of food for numerous scavengers. Loss of the big cat could potentially lead to degraded ecosystems and decreased biodiversity.

But something can be done!

The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) can help preserve the long-term survival of this Ecologically Significant Unit (ESU) of mountain lions in Southern and Central Coastal California. It would establish a statewide policy to protect them. CESA requires that agencies work to provide for the recovery and long-term survival of listed species.

Listing the ESU under CESA and developing a recovery plan would provide opportunities for improving our understanding of how much habitat remains, how many mountain lions we have, how many we need to maintain healthy populations, and how many are lost at human hands. It would also help to provide funding for managing, preserving, and improving habitat including the construction of needed wildlife crossings in key locations.

A California Endangered Species Act listing would require local planners to assess how mountain lions will be affected by a project and then incorporate steps to preserve core habitat, facilitate wildlife connectivity, and avoid reduction of mountain lion movement along key linkages.

State law currently allows state officials to issue a “depredation permit” to kill a mountain lion that has injured livestock or pets. Listing under the CESA would likely constrain the issuance of permits to kill mountain lions in protected populations.

Hopefully the situation in Yucca Valley in 2018 would have ended differently.

Take action now!

The Center for Biological Diversity has a petition to list the Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. This will be discussed by the California Fish and Game Commission at its meeting on April 15, 2020.

We strongly recommend the California Fish and Game Commission initiate a full status review and advance Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions to candidacy as threatened under the CESA.

The proposed listing includes all lions south of Golden Gate, west of I-5, south to 58 and then south of I-15. It’s based on genetics and connectivity so includes Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and Anza Borrego.

Here’s how you can help

Make your voice heard by April 14th at the latest. Tell the California Fish and Game Commission why you feel the Southern California and Coastal mountain lion should be listed as threatened. You can either use the Center for Biological Diversity’s online comment platform or contact the President of the Commission directly and include some of the following talking points.

Letters can be sent electronically to fgc@fgc.ca.gov or by mail to:

Mr. Eric Sklar, President

California Fish and Game Commissioners

1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1320

Sacramento, CA 95814

Talking points

– I strongly recommend the California Fish and Game Commission initiate a full status review and advance Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions to candidacy under the California Endangered Species Act.

– Mountain lions are an iconic and ecologically significant species in Southern and Central Coastal California.

– It’s critical that our Southern and Central Coast California mountain lion is listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act because mountain lions are vital to the desert ecosystem. They provide food for scavenger species like the endangered California condors. The well-being of mountain lions is linked with widespread ecosystem health.

– Mountain lions across Southern and Central Coast California are under severe threat as their habitat is besieged by fragmentation and loss.

– Existing laws and policies have proven inadequate to protect mountain lions, as is evidenced by the populations now at risk of extinction. Scientists predict that the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountain lion population could become extinct within fewer than 50 years.

– I support the mountain lion’s candidacy because it would mean approved development projects would require coordination between developers and wildlife experts to ensure corridor connectivity.